Mojza Blog

the CIE grading system

by Ali Irfan | 16 August 2023

Ever pondered over the enigma that is your grades? How you managed to snag that A* despite the seemingly insurmountable exam? Well, you’re in the right place, because we’re about to dive deep into the Cambridge grading system.

The A* to G System

Let’s kick things off by taking a look at what we’re working with. The grades available for each qualification are mostly similar with minor variations. Our focus is going to be three of them: O Level, IGCSE, and A Level.

The first qualification to consider is O Level, where students can achieve grades ranging from the holy grail that is A* down to the not-so-great E. Meanwhile, IGCSE uses the same grading scheme but takes into account whether candidates are following the extended or core syllabus. In exams for the extended syllabus, the grading scale aligns with that of O Level, spanning from A* to E. However, for the core syllabus, you’ll find that grades range from C to G. If you want to know more about O Level and IGCSE as a whole, you can check out our blog on that as well!

Next, let’s talk about A Level. Its grading scheme is also the same as O Level, with one key difference. A* is unattainable for AS level. It’s a grade exclusively available to those who complete the subject with A2 Level. On your results, you’ll see this represented with a lowercase letter to represent that the grade is for AS only.

One last thing to know, each component of a subject has has the same structure as the qualification and syllabus grade, with the exception of A*. That only comes around for the overall grade and you won’t find it for individual components. So, for example, O Level Maths, the overall grade can be from A* to E. Individual components grades will match up with that minus the A*, so A to E.

Grade Thresholds

Back in your good ol’ school days, you probably remember being graded according to fixed percentages, like scoring above 90% to earn an A or above 80% for a B. That method is what we call absolute grading—a system where the grade boundaries are predetermined and do not change. The rigidity of this approach has but one flaw; it doesn’t account for difficulty.

Cambridge, however, adjusts the thresholds based on the difficulty of the exam, making sure that getting a grade isn’t any tougher or easier compared to the previous year. So if an exam proves to be a real brain-buster, they’ll lower the thresholds to account for that. Conversely, if most candidates breeze through an exam, the thresholds may increase.

When you open up the grade thresholds you’re interested in, you’ll be welcomed by two tables, one displaying the marks corresponding to component grades and the other showcasing the same for the overall grade. Like I mentioned earlier, A* doesn’t show up for individual components, so you won’t find a column for it in the table.

Calculating Grades

Well, now you’re familiar with what grade thresholds are, but how do you go about using them to calculate a grade? First off, you’re gonna need to find the thresholds for the paper you gave. Those only come out after the exam is done and dusted, usually around the time of the result itself. So if you’re fresh out of the exam hall, you’re gonna have to sit tight for a while. But when they are released, or if you’re just doing past papers, you can find them on their website for O Level, AS & A Level, and IGCSE. While you’re waiting though, you might want to check out our blog on how to prepare for results.

When you take a look at the thresholds, you might notice something depending on what subject you picked: the component marks don’t add up to the subject total. That’s where weighting factors come in. You see, each component in a subject carries a specific weight, which determines how much it contributes to the final grade. The raw mark of a component is multiplied by its weighting factor to get the weighted mark, and that’s the magic number actually used in the calculation.

Let’s take O Level Maths as an example. Have a look at its grade threshold table, you’ll notice that the marks for papers 1 and 2, 80 and 100 respectively, don’t add up to the total for the overall grade, 200. That’s because paper 1 has a weighting factor of 1.25. So when you multiply 80 by 1.25, you get 100. Paper 2 has a weighting factor of just 1, since its marks stay the same at 100. That’s 100 + 100 and voila, we get the expected 200 marks.

These weighting factors vary depending on the subject and component, and they can change if the syllabus changes. Cambridge keeps them updated on their site. You can also find their own version of the grade calculation guide on that page.

Example Calculation

Let’s break down an example grade using this method. Keep in mind, though, that I’ll be using the November 2022 thresholds, as they’re the most recent as of writing this blog.

Consider a candidate who took an O Level Mathematics (Syllabus D) exam, and scored 57 out of 80 in paper 12 and 66 out of 100 in paper 22. According to the threshold, that translates to a B for paper 1 and an A for paper 2. But now, let’s apply our weighting factors and see how it affects the final grade.

For paper 12, as I mentioned earlier, the magic number is 1.25, so we multiply the score of 57 by 1.25 and get 70. As for paper 22, the weighting factor is just 1 so 66 stays as it is. Now, let’s add them together: 70 + 66 = 136. That’s just a smidge over the minimum mark required for an A. So, even though one of the component grades was a B, the final grade miraculously turned into an A!

Now, armed with this knowledge, it’s time for you to go on out there and embark on your journey of… grade calculation…? It’s a blog about how grades work, what kind of inspirational conclusion did you expect?


Author: Ali Irfan
Proofreaders:Syed Muhammad Shaheer Ali, Kanza Ahsan, Khadija Hashmat


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Published: 16 August 2023
Last Updated: 16 August 2023
Written by Ali Irfan